By every conceivable measure, from his unsightly ERA to the decibel level of the boos he often hears at Fenway Park, John Lackey has had a miserable first half of the season.

Surely, one last start before the All-Star break wouldn't erase that.

But what Lackey accomplished last night, with 62/3 scoreless innings in the Red Sox' 4-0 victory against the last-place Orioles, can't be overstated either. For the second time in three starts, the beleaguered right-hander was superb, restoring some confidence that he still can be an effective member of a rotation that needs him more than ever.

"He's had it rough, definitely a rough year," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said after the Sox won their fifth straight game and ninth in their last 10. "To his credit, man, he keeps going out there and pounding. I'm glad he was able to go out there tonight and pitch like he knows he can."

Lackey's fastball crackled in the mid-90s, and against an experienced Orioles lineup, he mixed in good offspeed pitches, including a bending curveball. He struck out seven batters and caused 17 swings and misses, the highest total in any of his 14 starts this year.

His most impressive inning? Try the fourth, when Lackey allowed a leadoff walk to Adam Jones before striking out Vladimir Guerrero on an 82-mph fastball and then dialing it up to 95 to whiff Matt Wieters.